Merry Christmas From Milo

The work run up to Christmas this year had its ups and downs. We were fortunate to have a good many great winter and holiday container and decorating projects. That every one gets done one thoughtful stick at a time means each project takes whatever time it takes. Though we were at it 6 days a week for better than 6 weeks, it became clear we would not finish all of the work before the holiday. The clients whose work will be done next week are not concerned, for a variety of reasons. They were fine that the finish would be later than usual. I was not so easy accepting that state of affairs. I like to finish what I start, on time. What I would have wanted was not to be. The best laid plans do not always work out, do they? I was not so happy that we would be late. One morning last week Dan insisted that he and his crew would be installing a lighted Christmas tree in my side garden. He knew before I did there would no time left over for me to do anything else at home.

He waved off my protest. I am grateful to him for that. I can see this tree out of all 3 rooms on the south side of my house. Prior to this, I should say it is very unusual for Christmas Eve to arrive on a Sunday, and Christmas on a Monday. We had enough work done at the close of the day on Friday the 22nd that I sent my crews home for the holidays. Three days off would be good for all of them. They have worked their hearts out-I can speak to that. The shop would be closed Christmas Eve, meaning I would be home both Sunday and Monday. The snow started about 1pm on the 24th, and did not stop. It was quiet and steady, and then heavy and steady. The Christmas tree inside was decorated, and my presents wrapped and ready. Those ensuing hours were mine, to watch that snow coming down. The weather was not extraordinary, dramatic or visually demanding. The skies were not booming. Those skies were that pale gray that hinted of a lot of snow in the air. It was a quiet and tranquil affair. Over the course of the day, the landscape became draped in white. I was able to watch that unusual Christmas Eve transformation in peace and quiet.

I decided I wanted to take a picture of that tree in the side yard. That would give me a chance to try out a new knee length winter coat, and new snow boots. Of course, Milo wanted to come along. Howard prefers his cozy bed, so we left him behind. I was enchanted when I reached the stairs going to the side yard. It is very hard to give up the gardening season, and that big pot that is always full of flowers all summer long. As I only replanted roses on the south side 2 years ago, that single pot, a surrounding formal arrangement of boxwood, and a pair of chairs is all that draws me to that upper level in the summer. Once those flowers in that large pot fade, and it is too cold to sit in the garden, I shudder for what is to come. I am sure the reason that I have spent better than 10 years keen to learn how to create container arrangements for the winter is a reaction to that loss. It was my landscape super Dan who banished any feeling of loss. That tree, in that pot, in the falling snow, was as beautiful a moment as I have ever had in my garden.

I took a lot of pictures to start. Milo was the steadfast companion that he always is. He picked a spot, and settled in. I settled in, too.  I was warm and dry, so why not wait to see what would develop when the late day light would start changing? We both had coats, boots and gloves. We stayed.

By this time I had completely forgotten about that winter work that was yet to be done. I was home for Christmas – much to our mutual satsfaction.

It was at this moment that I remembered why I became a gardener. The natural world is a world to which I belong. Sometimes I need to be reminded of this. I remembered my membership today. This Christmas Eve day long snow was a great gift from nature. The gifts from nature are legion, aren’t they? That steady snow brushed away all of my concern about the work yet to be done. I was home in my garden. What could be better?

There are those gardening moments that are perfect moments. This was one of those moments.

Buck’s son Stryker could not imagine why I had been outdoors so long in a snow storm. He took this picture of me. The out of doors is a place for me to live, breathe and be, oh yes. I am happy for this picture that says so.

Milo kept me out until just after dark.

That lighted tree from inside? A brightly shining Christmas moment. A landscape and garden moment. The view out the window was a happy view indeed.

Later, that tree is still shining. Merry Christmas!

This post was written in honor of, in recognition of, and in special appreciation for my landscape superintendent, Dan Sass. Merry Christmas, Dan.

Merry Christmas, gardeners all!

The Finishing Touch

The moment I saw this winter project, I knew a lighted garland wrapped around the front door surround would bring all of the winter elements together. A garland attached to that limestone surround some 25 feet off the ground that would describe the entrance to this home is the stuff of fairy tales. I told my client it would take a lot of people and equipment to make this happen. There would be no ladder tall enough and safe enough for an installation at this height. Expecting her to say no, she said yes. Given her go ahead, Templeton Building Company was kind enough to send out four sections of scaffolding, and two of their people to set screws in the mortar over the doorway, and down the sides. Four of my crew met the two from Templeton early one morning.

I was not especially happy about the process. The scaffolding was on wheels, for starters. Really? It got built skyward, section by section, until it was high enough to provide a place to work. Would I want to be up there working? No. Was I worried about each and every one of them climbing this expanded ladder to the sky-yes I was. It only took Matt 40 minutes to set the screws that would hold both the magnolia garland, and the light garland. So far, so good. My crew on the ground delivered the materials to those people who were aloft.

Once the screws were in place, LaBelle made his way up the scaffolding, hauling one end of the magnolia garland. David LaBelle is a leading fabricator for my company, the Branch Studio, and he has no fear of heights, or scaffolding. I cannot imagine how that can be, but he seemed relaxed about it, and I knew he would be entirely capable of wiring on the garlands. As the scaffolding was but 7 feet wide, we would have to install one side of the garland at a time, and then move the scaffolding to the other side.

The top surface of the top layer of scaffolding was only one board wide. LaBelle was not in the least bit concerned. The best part of all of my companies are the people who make things happen. Our group of 20 something has varying skills. The variety of work we are able to do depends on this.

Once the first sections of garland came down the right and left side, I knew the big effort to set lighted garland over this two story doorway was a good idea. The final sections of garland could be attached from a ladder.

Once the magnolia garland was secured, the light garland went up next. The garland is 50 feet long overall, and is comprised of a 100 foot strand of LED C-9 lights, and a 100 foot strand of Lumineo mini LED lights, each folded in half, and twisted together. Frequent zip ties keep the twist from unraveling.

LaBelle was ready to take this light garland up high. The LED lights represent a vast improvement in exterior lighting. This garland is amazingly light weight. LED’s now have a quality of light very similar to warm incandescent lighting.  They consume very little power, and are economical to run. But the best feature for us is the fact that the light covers are plastic – not glass. They are shatterproof.  So no harm if you drop them, or bang them against a brick wall. When first introduced, the big bulb LED lights were very expensive. 1 25′ strand would run 27.00. That same strand is less than 10.00 now.

The lighted magnolia garland over this door is beautiful – day and night. The backs of the leaves echo the color of the brick and wood architectural elements.

From the drive court, the scale of every winter element looks appropriate. From the ground plane to the sky, this winter landscape has a lot going on. That lighted magnolia garland better than two stories up over the front door does not look too big or overly elaborate. It is fairly simple, just sized to fit.

From the far side of the drive court, some rare late day December sun describes a landscape and garden ready for winter. This winter landscape has volume, structure, texture, mass, -and most importantly, lighting. A routine winter day in Michigan is gray.

Once the December light fades, there is a garden to be seen of a different sort. Light your own winter landscape as you wish. I would suggest that any effort you make to light the landscape is well worth the effort.

welcome.

The Details

Better than twenty years ago, before a cell phone had been invented or a world wide web established, I would drive Rob to the airport for a buying trip to Europe. In those days we could have a cocktail in the lounge, and I could accompany him all the way to the boarding chute for a goodby. It was an emotional experience, that send off. The trip itinerary was sketchy at best. He had little idea where he was going, but that his plane would land in London or Paris or Brussels. Our main clues for overseas shopping came for foreign language magazines and travel books. I would be lucky to hear from him every 10 days for a few very scratchy phone moments. Few hotels had overseas phone service.

As anxious as I was to hear from him once he was abroad, he had his hands full, trying to locate his car and his lodging, driving in a foreign country, driving to shops that were either impossible to find or no longer in business. By the time he was able to call, I was beside myself with worry. He dealt with that in his usual bemused way. No one can dial down a fret fest better than he can. In retrospect, I incredibly admire his raw determination and courage. I doubt he knew at the time that he was charting unknown waters. Why would he? We were in the thick of trying to establish a shop devoted to fine objects for the garden. If you know Rob, you understand that his idea of fine objects and good design is never about money. Some things he purchases for the shop-ouch.  Others are eminently affordable. Witness the lighted winter pot detail above-all those weedy sticks came from the field next door. Add some lights, and voila.

Once he would return home, I would pour over his photographs. I was keen to absorb every detail. These were places I had never been. I wanted to experience his travels as best I could.  In those days, I studied his photographs with a magnifying glass. That close up view revealed so many of the details of the places he was seeing.  Those things that he arranged to have shipped home – that magnifying glass helped me to see those details that won him over. I cannot really explain this, but the magnifying glass helped make the photographs seem a little more real.

Our IT person extraordinaire Jenny explained to me how I could crop my photographs to make the details clearer. I will admit I have been playing around with the idea of magnifying certain details, given her instruction.  What I like is that I am able to focus on details that speak so much to the evidence of the human hand, and the relationship of one material, color, mass or texture to another.

This winter container arrangement was photographed in place after we installed it in the box.

The details are much magnified and easier to see now.

My crews are on a 6 day a week schedule right now. We have taken over the shop stock room for all of the construction. People who find there way back there are able to see how much time and skill it takes to put it all together. Then there is the installation phase, which we always hope is as quick and efficient as possible. The pictures of the finished work do not always do a good job of describing the details, both visual and physical. When it comes time to do this project next year, I will mark up the picture with the new design.

To follow are are some photographs of previous work under a digital magnifying glass. To any gardener who reads my journal, I suspect that the looks close up are the most descriptive view of the work. If you click on any of these pictures, you will get yet a closer look. Not all of them are in sharp focus-that is why I call them pictures and not photographs.

eucalyptus drifting down into the greens

a wreath on a second story window is artificial-“store bought”. We added 2 pine cone garlands in neutral colors on the edges, and spiced up the top.

winter berry

a layered look

grapevine deer with a holiday collar

white grassy picks

lighted

asymmetrical

glass drops in the rain

the natural shape and drape of the greens create an overall shape

detail

We get to see all the details up close, just like this.

On Their Own

winter potsI posted some time ago about the landscape I designed for my clients who live in a rural area outside Ann Arbor. They edited and installed that landscape on their own – to everyone’s  great satisfaction. I was happy indeed that they took my plan to heart, and edited it to reflect their point of view. Late this fall they planted a wide ribbon of grape hyacinths in the lawn beginning near the large round planter and running all the way to the road. There’s nothing like having a river of grape hyacinths to look forward to in the spring, is there? Eventually, there may be some trees on either side of that river.  Their last garden project of the season-the winter pots. They came to the shop the other day to with to consult with me about their plans, and look at materials. Of course they would do their winter pots on their own.

winter potsI spent plenty of time talking them through their design process.  They knew they wanted to use cut white birch branches, and spruce tips.  And they wanted to incorporate the color red. Their taste is tends towards the contemporary, but in a loose and brash way. Containers filled with natural materials informally arranged proved to be a strikingly beautiful contrast to their sober and spare landscape.

img_0191This post is not so much about what I advised them to do. It is primarily about what they did on their own. This winter pot is terrific.  I was delighted when Rich sent me this group of photographs. The greens in the bottom of this container are spruce tips, from Minnesota. Dan had them shipped in.  I have never seen them before. These spruce toppers sunk into the soil of a container looked like a forest of mini trees. This container is as good as it gets, in my opinion. It is relaxed, assured, and striking. The thin red twig branches against the stout birch branches-so beautiful.

winter potsI did advise them to light their pots. Their property is in a rural area. Absent a full moon, their property is shrouded in darkness. The light in the winter pots would be key to welcoming guests, and representing a warm winter. It took a bit of doing to convince them to spring for a 3′ diameter spiked light ring encircled with LED lights, but they eventually decided that my advice was good advice. After much discussion, they took that ring home with them. Set into their 5 foot diameter steel bowl container facing the road, that light ring not only illuminated what was in the pot, it lit up the walk to the front door.     img_4253The materials they chose? Mountain hemlock, for its feathery texture, and its longevity as a cut green. Noble fir is a cut green whose stout stems amicably support lights, and obligingly stay green throughout the winter. The magnolia branches in this container feature big leaves. Those big glossy green leaves are a nod to romance. The Michigan winter is spare and gray. Cut magnolia is luscious – juicy looking. The hollow birch bark rounds are chubby and charming. The faux red berry stems hover over all.  Happily, they will represent for many winters to come. The Lumineo warm LED light strings illuminate the greens.

winter containersThis is work that I am happy to share here.  I greatly admire what they have done.

winter container arrangementsaa

We provided the centerpieces for this pair of winter containers.  Our client did the rest. Lovely, aren’t they?

This planter was constructed by a client who shopped on line with us for some of her materials.

This client shopped at Detroit Garden Works for materials too.

These containers are the creation of a member of my group. I like that he had the enthusiasm to go home and make winter pots, after making them for others day after day.

I truly enjoy what people say back to me about the garden.

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